Shen Qiao lifted a hand and rubbed at the nape of his neck. He looked over at Lu Zhe, and his voice was a little less self-righteous than usual when he took off his headset and said—
"We won, didn't we?"
DG had had more champions up and ready for battle, and the enemy DPS champion's flash was on cooldown. COCO hadn't been running any champions like Ezreal, and they didn't have any formidable, large-scale AOE moves. Under those circumstances, who in the rift could have resisted such a perfect opportunity?
Besides, DG had already pushed their way up to COCO's base by then.
Lu Zhe smiled as he watched Shen Qiao get out of his seat. He picked up his own jacket, which he'd draped over his chair earlier, and started heading back to the rest area with Old Wo and the others.
"That's right, we won. It's all thanks for our Qiaoqiao, seizing the day."
Shen Qiao swept his tongue over his lower lip. He could tell that Lu Zhe was teasing him, but he couldn't help arguing, "That really was a good opportunity."
Lu Zhe had teased him enough now. He nodded earnestly and said, "You're right, we could have won that fight, and we did. I was just taking their respawn times into consideration, and Baron Nashor had already spawned, so I figured we could play it safe. Taking them on directly was fine too, it just meant we had a smaller margin for error.
"Luckily, our top, middle, and bottom laners aren't prone to making mistakes. Even by taking them on right away, our chances of victory were high."
Shen Qiao lifted his brows at that. When he walked into the rest area with Lu Zhe and heard him praise every member of their team, while leaving himself out, he looked over and asked, "Did you do that on purpose?"
"Hm?" Lu Zhe hummed.
Shen Qiao loosely crossed his arms and gave Lu Zhe a once-over. "You're deliberately pretending to be humble, and just waiting for me to praise you. Is that right?"
Lu Zhe crinkled the corners of his eyes and asked, "Then are you going to praise me?"
Shen Qiao had no interest in entertaining him. He tried to move past Lu Zhe to get to the couch, but Lu Zhe blocked him at every turn. If Shen Qiao moved right, Lu Zhe blocked right. If Shen Qiao moved left, Lu Zhe blocked left.
Ultimately, it was Manager Zhou who sighed and said, "How childish are the two of you?"
Shen Qiao lifted his chin and pushed those words off on Lu Zhe. "You hear that? You're childish."
Lu Zhe laughed so hard that his shoulders shook, faintly. The jacket he'd draped over the chair earlier was draped over his shoulders now. The fabric was lightweight enough that the sleeves swayed in the air, as though carried by a breeze.
His eyes crinkled into crescents, and his smile grew brighter and wider as well. He teasingly complained, "Why is it so hard to get you to praise me?"
After saying that, Lu Zhe remembered something else. He didn't spend any more time pulling Shen Qiao's pigtails like they were flirty schoolkids. Instead, he turned to Zheng Zhizhuo, who was sitting nearby and watching their interactions.
"Today's plan is for us to each play one round," Lu Zhe said as he moved over to Zheng Zhizhuo. "I went on for the second round, so you're up next."
Zheng Zhizhuo froze. He was sitting down, so he had to look far, far up to meet Lu Zhe's eyes. He lifted his head with a hesitant smile and said to Lu Zhe, "It'll be match point next, right? It's better for the captain to go on after all. This is the captain's first appearance after his recovery. If he goes out there and brings us a 3-0 victory, it'll be a huge morale boost for everyone."
After saying that, Zheng Zhizhuo shyly added, "But if I get the chance, I'd love to play a few rounds at the world championship."
Lu Zhe knew what he really meant. His eyes softened. Zheng Zhizhuo was a really good kid. Off the field, he was the type who always knew how to look after his teammates. On the field, when he really got going, he was the type that anyone and everyone liked to work with.
Zheng Zhizhuo and Zhao Yue were still young. They had many seasons left to play. Lu Zhe was happy to see these newcomers play for DG. Even if Zheng Zhizhuo went to another LPL team in the future, Lu Zhe was sure he would make a name for himself.
"If we make it to worlds—" Lu Zhe smiled. "—the coaching team will definitely let you play."
Zheng Zhizhuo's smile grew even brighter.
"Welcome back to the LPL's summer tournament! We're now entering the third game of our best-of-five! DG has taken the first two wins, and they've brought us to match point. COCO must be very nervous right now. We're all waiting to see what kind of team comp their coaches will bring out for this one—"
As the voices of the commentators rang out through the stadium, the players of COCO and DG took the stage again. Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao returned to their seats. As soon as he put on his headset, Lu Zhe voiced a question—
"I've noticed you practicing with all sorts of champions recently. In today's deciding game, is there a special hero you'd like to play?"
When Qian Bao and the others heard this question, they all turned to look at Shen Qiao.
They'd all been playing together for a while now, but in the picks and bans stage, they mostly all went along with Coach Fang's suggestions. The other players of DG had never seen Shen Qiao show a special interest in any champion in particular.
In their typical training sessions, Shen Qiao would often train with random champions in ARAM mode, and he would practice with the champions chosen for him by Coach Fang when queueing up for games. When the team thought about it now, they really had no idea which champions their top laner preferred.
Shen Qiao glanced at Lu Zhe. His eyes were bright with a slight smile, and he asked, "Do you really want to know?"
Lu Zhe was silent, but curious.
Shen Qiao followed the instructions he received from Coach Fang and banned Pantheon. As he did so, he unhurriedly answered, "I want to play Ezreal in the top lane."
Lu Zhe thought about that fragile little Ezreal, with viable skills but pretty much nothing else. His mana consumption was also quite high. In the early stages of the game, he was the type to die off easily.
After thinking for a few seconds, Lu Zhe asked, "Anyone else?"
"Nautilus? Kai'Sa? Twitch?" Shen Qiao casually listed out.
This time, before Lu Zhe could even answer, Coach Fang stated, "As long as I'm here, don't even think about pulling out this sort of outrageous lineup."
Old Wo laughed and recited a popular saying. "A top-lane AD is sure to make your parents weep."
Lu Zhe breathed a low laugh into the headset as well. Then he said, "Alright. After today's game, I'll queue up with you tonight, and you can try Ezreal in the top lane. But I'll tell you now—don't blame me if we lose."
The top lane was on the outskirts of the rift. Playing an extremely fragile champion there was difficult. Even if that fragile champion had the benefit of a long range, which would help against the enemy champions and minions, being ganked was too much of a threat. Upon being targeted, these brittle champions tended to die on the spot.
Besides, the top lane champion was supposed to be one with a nice balance between damage output potential and tankiness. The middle lane was often dedicated to an AP champion, while a glass cannon was played on the bottom lane as the ADC. If a glass cannon was played on the top lane as well, then there was a good chance that the team as a whole wouldn't be able to tank the opposing team's damage.
Of course, LoL did a great job of balancing its champions. Each champion had their own unique characteristics and strengths, which varied from version to version. It certainly wasn't impossible for Shen Qiao to win with a glass cannon in the top lane, but in order to make that work—
He needed a jungler who practically lived on the top lane, the type that never strayed. But playing like that… made the chances of defeat much higher.
When Lu Zhe offered that compromise, it was more or less the same as shoving a handful of dog food down his teammates' throats.
For some reason, perhaps because they were truly enraged by the grotesque amounts of dog food they'd been fed as of late, DG's players were all chomping at the bit during that round. They took every opportunity to drag the other team into a team fight. Just eight minutes into the game, a brawl broke out on the bottom lane, in which DG and COCO each took two lives.
After that team fight, they went on to fight a dragon. After that dragon, it was the Rift Herald. After the Herald, it was Baron Nashor.
COCO had no chance to snowball their way to an advantage in this round. They were completely swept away by the intense rhythm DG set. DG gained a huge advantage throughout the round, and at the twenty-nine minute mark—COCO's base was blown to bits.
A huge cheer roared through the crowd!
"DG! DG! DG! DG!"
"Wahhhhh, they won, they won!"
This was clearly only a third-place ranking match, but DG's clean sweep and Lu Zhe's performance told their fans one thing—they could still believe in DG.
Even the commentators were shouting themselves hoarse.
"Twenty-nine minutes! Twenty-nine minutes! COCO had no chance to fight back! The DG we know and love is back!"
"Congratulations to DG for placing third in the summer tournament!"
"Although they didn't qualify for the finals of the summer tournament, with the current standings in the league, DG can definitely make it into the tournament for the third spot for the world championships. Now we just have to wait and see who they'll play against…"
"Then, can we start to look forward to a performance at worlds that'll rival what we saw last year?"
Shen Qiao took off his headset and looked over at Lu Zhe while fireworks sprayed out from the edges of the stage.
Lu Zhe had already stood up to wait for him. When he saw Shen Qiao's calm demeanor, he suddenly remembered the way Shen Qiao had given Zheng Zhizhuo and Zhao Yue each a high-five when they first won their own games.
So he also lifted his hand.
Shen Qiao had originally been very composed. But when he saw this gesture from Lu Zhe, he couldn't help but stand up right away. He moved closer and reached up. A pair of rings, one gold and one silver, glinted in the light as their palms met.
At just that moment, Lu Zhe suddenly gripped Shen Qiao's hand and pulled him closer—
Shen Qiao stumbled forward two steps with the force of that tug, drawing closer to Lu Zhe's side.
The scent of cedarwood wrapped him up.
In that instant, Shen Qiao's shoulder brushed Lu Zhe's chest, and the man's lips brushed his ear.
"I'll give you this bronze trophy for now," Lu Zhe whispered softly. "We'll take it one step at a time. Next time, we'll do even better."
Lu Zhe only hugged him lightly before releasing him, but this display had been captured perfectly by the cameras. The fans in the stadium were screaming incessantly.
Their rings were silver and gold, and the confetti littering the stage was silver and gold as well. When the lights rained down on them, it was as though all the radiance in the world was centered around the two of them.
But the two men at the center of all this light were completely oblivious to their surroundings. They were lost in each other's eyes.
Hearing Lu Zhe's words, Shen Qiao smiled even wider. "So confident?"
Without waiting for Lu Zhe to answer, he continued, "As expected of last year's FMVP. You're in a league of your own."
Lu Zhe seemed to detect some hidden meaning in those words. He suddenly asked, "Are you praising me?"
Shen Qiao shook his head. "No. I'm just stating the truth."
Lu Zhe was just about to silently mark down two instances where Shen Qiao neglected to praise him today, when he suddenly heard Shen Qiao speak again.
"Whether we do better or not, you'll always be the most outstanding player in my heart," Shen Qiao said. "To me, you'll always be the FMVP—"
His eyes were glittering, his smile was brilliant, and the image of Lu Zhe was reflected in his pupils.
Unhurriedly, he finished—
"That's my praise, for you."
FMVP: Most valuable player of the finals. It can be considered the highest honor in the LPL~